Triple Crown or not, Smarty's a winner in the ratings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am

America's love affair with the Smarty Jones story spilled over into huge television ratings on the weekend, with NBC Sports' coverage of the 136th Belmont Stakes in New York producing the biggest audience for the race in 27 years.

NBC's coverage delivered a 13.4 rating (27 per cent audience share), the best Belmont overnight rating since a 15.4 and 47 per cent share for Seattle Slew's Triple Crown-clinching victory in 1977, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The ratings represented a 29 per cent improvement over Funny Cide's failed Triple Crown bid last year, which had been the best Belmont overnight figures since the arrival of people meters in 1987.

'It was America's love affair with Smarty Jones that got us the highest Belmont rating in 27 years,' said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics. 'I am incredibly proud of the telecast, but more importantly the opportunity after the race to show what I think was the best display of grace and sportsmanship by both winners and losers that I may have ever seen at a sports event. America could learn a lot about sportsmanship from what happened in the 15 minutes after the race.'

Veteran British handler Clive Brittain, who brought Warrsan to the SAR last December and took third prize in the $14 million Hong Kong Vase, was in celebratory mode last Friday when the gelding won the Coronation Cup (Gr 1) at Epsom for the second time.

Guided by former Hong Kong club jockey Darryll Holland, Warrsan rallied on the outside from well off the pace to grab the lead from High Accolade approaching the final furlong before pulling away for a comfortable 13/4-length victory.

Holland and Brittain also teamed up to win the Oaks d'Italia (Ity-G1) at San Siro racecourse on May 23 with Menhoubah.

'That was fantastic,' Holland said. 'Warrsan really free-wheeled down the hill, and I have never one so fast. He is a course-and-distance winner so he knows how to handle the track, and that is my second Group One winner for Clive this year, so I am delighted.'

Warrsan had lost seven successive races since his half-length win in last year's Coronation Cup.

Apart from his third to Vallee Enchantee at Sha Tin, Warrsan also finished a respectable fifth in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad al Sheba on March 27.

Sunday's Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) may not have produced a championship display but elsewhere on Chantilly's biggest day of the year, Bago put up the best performance seen in France this season with a storming victory in the Prix Jean Prat.

Bago's trainer Jonathan Pease, responsible for stars like Spinning World and Act One in recent years, stopped the press gallery in is tracks when he described the unbeaten son of champion Nashwan as 'the best I've trained ... and by some way'.

Popular former Hong Kong club jockey Christophe Soumillon, who finished third in the race, echoed the comment by comparing Bago to his Arc winner Dalakhani.

Bago seems unlikely to go to the Irish Derby for a clash with Epsom Derby victor North Light, but Pease looks like taking the long-term view and setting him for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October.

Best quote from Derby weekend at Epsom came from young Aussie jockey Kerrin McEvoy who finished second in the Derby on Godolphin's Rule Of Law.

'Halfway down the straight when I got to the outside of Johnny Murtagh's mount [Salford City], I thought we had a big chance if North Light had come back to us,' McEvoy said.

'Typical of Kieren Fallon, he kept North Light going to the line, but my horse was gallant in defeat.'

Perhaps McEvoy had forgotten Fallon's recent problem when he eased up when well clear and was beaten on a certain winner. Or else the youngster has a wicked sense of humour.